Housing Ills Blamed On NIMBY, Regulation

Excessive regulation and not-in-my-back-yard thinking deserve much of the blame for the nation’s shortage of affordable homes, federal housing officials said yesterday.

And that’s a situation that hasn’t changed in 14 years, since then-housing secretary Jack Kemp issued a report that was seen as a challenge to environmentalists and anti-growth advocates.

In an update of that 1991 report released yesterday, officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development said over-regulation on the local, state and federal levels increase the cost of housing by as much as 35 percent.

The National Association of Home Builders, the National Association of Realtors and the nonprofit builder Habitat for Humanity endorsed HUD’s call for changes, research and increased awareness.

But some yesterday questioned, as critics did 14 years ago, why the Bush administration says cutting regulation is the answer.

A bigger problem, they said, is the administration’s proposed $3 billion in budget cuts at HUD and the proposed transfer of HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program to the Commerce Department.

“I just find it amazing that the administration is saying that the major barrier . . . is some instances where there may be zoning ordinances that block development, or other regulatory delays,” said Valerie Coffin of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), “when actually the problem is that there is a need for more money.”

Roy A. Bernardi, HUD deputy secretary, said at the report’s release yesterday that “there is no higher priority for President Bush and [HUD] Secretary [Alphonso] Jackson than to provide safe, decent and affordable housing.”

He and others said that removing unneeded rules, updating building codes and lowering excessive fees could cut costs. Extra rules and NIMBYism that push housing to the far suburbs lead to extra-long commutes, he said. “But living in your car is not affordable housing as affordable housing was meant to be,” he said.

President Bush has defended his budget as a way to make social spending more effective.

Saul N. Ramirez Jr., executive director of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials and former deputy secretary at HUD under President Bill Clinton, said, “A lot of this regulation really is in place for . . . maintaining a balance in providing services, such as schools and sewer facilities, with the growth of that community.”

© 2005 The Washington Post Company